Meteora: THE Place to See a Unique Hidden Monk Jail!

The Holy Spirit hike in Meteora, Greece, is packed with adventure, breath-taking views, long traditions and a first for me....a monk jail! Yes, a monk jail!

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While there is a good hiking network in Meteora, that takes you through the same paths monks have used for centuries, the one one to Holy Spirit (The Rock of Aghio Rnevma) was my favourite hike in Meteora. Here’s why:

hike to Holy Spirit in Meteora, Greece From the very start, you get views of the natural other-worldly sandstone pillars, with the six remaining monasteries perched precariously on top! You can learn more about the Meteora monasteries here.
Meteora Greece mountainsAfter a few minutes of trekking, you get to one of my favourite parts of the hike – where there’s a rope to hang on to. It’s not scary, and requires no technical ability, just a good grip, and an encouraging guide if you’re afraid!

Meteora Greece mountainsAlong the way, it’s worth stopping to enjoy the flora and fauna. Despite being October, these flowers were still in full bloom! Somehow, I think the monks that choose such an isolated life would have done the same thing! Hmmm, maybe I should consider a career change? ūüėČ
Meteora Greece mountainsAfter a relatively short ascent, you get views over Meteora, which means suspended in space. I couldn’t think of a more fitting name for this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Each one has its own name, and our guide Kostas told us some of them. There’s Spindle, a small rock between two larger ones, and my personal favourite, Devil’s Tower. The names served much as street names do today, making life easier for the locals. Meet me under the Devil’s Tower? You know that must be one popular rock! That’s one of the reasons I recommend exploring Meteora with a guide – they have so many stories and are proud of their region and happy to share them with you!
Meteora Greece mountains
Next up, comes the first surprise. A small chapel built right into the rock and filled with religious artefacts.

Entering the cave en route to the Holy Spirit in Meteora Greece

Entering the tiny chapel en route to the Holy Spirit in Meteora Greece

Outside again, and to the breath-taking views over one of the most unique landscapes I’ve ever seen:
View of the unique sandstone pillars that make Meteora, Greece so unique

View of one of the six remaining monasteries in Meteora, Greece

View of the Holy Spirit Mountain in Meteora, Greece

View of the unique sandstone pillars that make Meteora, Greece so unique

Meteora Greece mountains

A quick scramble up a short section of rock is where things start to get really interesting. Back in the 10th century, a tiny monastery was erected here. Now, all that remains is a wooden cross and a bell. But that hasn’t stopped villagers from honouring this sacred spot.

Every year, teenagers from the village will go to the Holy Spirit plateau to  to camp out the night before. The next day, the rest of the village joins them for a religious ceremony.
At the top of Holy Spirit Mountain in Meteora, Greece
Then, a few brave villagers, free climb to the Small Holy Spirit to change the scarf! I’m pretty adventurous, but can with 100% certainty say that I think they’re nuts! Seriously, would you free-climb this?

View from Holy Spirit Mountain to the Small Holy Spirit, where a few brave villagers will fee-climb to change the scarf every year.

View from Holy Spirit Mountain to the Small Holy Spirit, where a few brave villagers will fee-climb to change the scarf every year.

After hanging out on the plateau, it’s time to scramble the last few steps to reach the highest point of the Holy Spirit:

Scrambling the last section of rock on Holy Spirit Mountain in Meteora, Greece

Colm from the Paprika Project scrambling the last section of rock on the Holy Spirit.

Meteora Greece mountains

Enjoying the views from the Holy Spirit with Audrey from That Backpacker.

Besides the incredible views over the unique formations, the other highlight of the hike was on the return way – visiting the monk jail! It consisted of 14 different levels so that each monk was isolated! And what exactly lands you in monk jail? While it’s not exactly clear explained our guide Kostas, one thing for sure was disobedience. This was especially true if a younger monk disobeyed an older one. Somehow, this explanation left me disappointed.

 

Meteora Greece mountains

Weren’t the monks capable of seedier crimes? Another story, where a group of monks kidnapped a girl and held her captive definitely alleged so!

While each monk was isolated, they would be able to hear each other. Do you think they repented for their sins and remained silent? Somehow, I have a feeling that monk jail would have been more like a party, where they didn’t have to obey all the strict rules of monastic life!

Meteora Greece mountains

Meteora is one of the most unique places I’ve ever been.

The combination of unique rock formations, and monasteries has earned it a prominent, and deserved UNESCO site for both nature and art. It’s one of only a few sites in the world that qualify for more than one category. You’ll definitely want 2-3 days to explore this mystical part of Greece! Besides, where else are you going to see a monk jail?
Our hiking group revelling in the geological phenomenon that makes Meteora, Greece so famous.

Know Before You Go to Meteora:

Hiking the Holy Spirit in Meteora, Greece:

You’ll have to go with a guide, as there are no signs, or trail markers – in Greek or any other language. While I would normally see that as a disadvantage, trust me in Meteora you’re going to want to go with a guide. A passionate guide like Kostas, helps you re-live the tales told of the monks who have walked these ancient trails since the 15th century, so that you really get an understanding for what you’re experiencing. I can’t recommend our ¬†guide Kostas from Visit Meteora¬†enough! It’s a relatively easy hike, but there are a few places where some scrambling (where you’ll have to use your hands) are involved.

How long do you need to explore Meteora, Greece?

While many tour groups just stop for a few hours to visit the monasteries, as I did on my first visit, en route to ¬†Epirus, another hiker’s paradise, this is a HUGE mistake. You’ll be among crowds and won’t get to experience the isolation that the monks so badly sought! The quietness is where you really get to experience how mystical Meteora really is!

I spent 3 days exploring it on my second visit and got SO much more out of it. While the monasteries are the main attraction of Meteora, the storytelling and hundreds of years traditions that locals still carry on is what really fascinated me. I loved the combination of hiking, storytelling and just being still – Meteora is a very contemplative place. While I hiked for 2 of my 3 days, there are also 650 bolted climbing routes, so there’s lots to do for adventurers for a few days!

Where to Stay in Meteora?

I stayed at the Divani Meteora Hotel, a contemporary luxury hotel with views of Meteora, located in Kalamabaka! I especially loved the lobby. There were so many cozy sections, including one with a fireplace. I spent a lot of time hanging out there.

How to get to Meteora from Athens?

Meteora is ~4 hour drive from Athens. If you book a multi-day tour Visit Meteora can pick you up in Athens. Alternatively, you can either drive or take a train. However you get there, you’ll want to check out these Greek quotes for a road trip through Greece.

 

Meteora Greece mountains

Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their active holidays in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Germany. You can find her in the mountains on most weekends.
2017-06-02T16:02:47+00:00

11 Comments

  1. Rachel January 24, 2016 at 7:19 pm - Reply

    Loved your post!
    I’m Greek and it is a bit embarrassing that i haven’t made it to Meteora yet. Hopefully later this year ūüôā
    Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Laurel January 26, 2016 at 4:37 pm - Reply

      @Rachel – Thank you so much! Sometimes, we explore our own country the least. I know that I get lazy sometimes when places are so close that you could go “anytime”, that you end up not going at all. Hope you make it Meteora this year.

  2. Claudia January 24, 2016 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    It must have been ages ago – when internet still wasn’t a thing – that I saw a documentary about Meteora. I have been wanting to go ever since. Yet, despite having been to Greece 3 times already, I still haven’t. Time to fix that!

    • Laurel January 26, 2016 at 4:36 pm - Reply

      @Claudia – Cool! Can’t recommend Meteora enough. There’s no where else on earth like it! Hope you go on your next visit to Greece!

  3. noel February 8, 2016 at 10:40 pm - Reply

    I was in Meteora early November and it was cold but the views were still stunning and the crowds were non existent in the towns below so that for me was a total plus. This looks like a fantastic climb, I would have loved doing this one, but did take quite a few amazing hikes in the region.

    • Laurel February 9, 2016 at 6:58 pm - Reply

      @Noel – That sounds like a perfect time to go. I was there in October and it was still quite warm, and there also weren’t any crowds. Glad that you got some hiking in.

  4. Mette Vaabengaard February 11, 2016 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    I’m amazed you didn’t need a line and a helmet to go up there. I’m sure it would tickle my vertigo.

    • Laurel February 11, 2016 at 5:20 pm - Reply

      @Mette – I know right, those were some very brave monks! Today, nobody would dream of doing it without rope and a helmet.

  5. Petr February 16, 2016 at 8:18 am - Reply

    Thank you for nice tip to travel. I like mountains and Meteora look like nice. Your blog is nice!

  6. Fivos March 6, 2017 at 5:50 am - Reply

    Went to Meteora 2 years ago in November & hiked up from Kalambaka to the monasteries Agias Triados, Agiou Stefanou, Varlaam and came back down through the forest trail and round Kastraki. It was there that I noticed what looked like strange cave like habitations in the sheer rock face at different levels with what looked like flags hung on clothes lines strung across the front. I couldn’t figure out how anyone could possibly get up there, nor for what purpose, & forgot to ask my hosts. But thanks to your post I now know.

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